An expert in extinct creatures from Tunbridge Wells has expressed surprise that a dodo skeleton was sold at auction in Sussex for only £346,000.
Errol Fuller, a natural history curator and consultant for Summers Place auction house in Billinghurst, helped to prepare the sale of the first ever dodo skeleton put up for auction. It is also the first to be sold anywhere for more than 100 years.
The 95 per cent complete composite skeleton of the extinct flightless bird was sold to a private buyer on November 22. It was expected to fetch £500,000.
The phone bidder paid £280,000, with the remainder consisting of the purchaser’s premium to cover administration fees.
Only one dodo skeleton exists that is made up from the bones of a single animal.
The previous owner of this example had collected fragments throughout the 1970s and ’80s. The specimen lacks part of the skull and one set of claws.
The dodo’s only habitat was the island of Mauritius. The relative of the pigeon, which grew up to 3ft tall, became extinct less than 100 years after its discovery by Dutch sailors in 1598.
Mr Fuller, who is also a painter and illustrator, has written a number of books on extinction as well as co-authored a volume with Sir David Attenborough called Drawn from Paradise, about the legendary naturalists’ favourite birds of paradise.
“When researching the dodo for one of my books, it became obvious that most museums had acquired their dodos many years ago and no relatively complete skeleton has been put together since the early 20th century,” he said.
“When Summers Place Auctions was offered this dodo, you can imagine my excitement,” he added. “I am surprised that the skeleton didn’t fetch a higher figure. The dodo is one of the great icons of extinction.
“There are only 11 relatively complete skeletons in the world – and all of the others are in museums, from which they are unlikely to come out.”
Mauritius has now banned the export of all dodo remains, which means that there will almost certainly never be another similar sale.
“There are, of course, many other museums that would like a specimen and I thought there might also be much competition among private buyers,” said Mr Fuller.
“I did think that the price might go considerably higher, given the great rarity and importance of the specimen. There will be no more complete dodo skeletons on the market – ever.”
“The bones that the Summers Place dodo was constructed from were exported from Mauritius during the 1860s and they came to Britain long before any export regulations came into effect.”
“So there is no chance of any dodo skeleton other than this one ever being offered for sale.”
This was the fourth of Summers Place’s Evolution Sales. Previously it had sold a Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton to the Danish Natural History Museum for half a million pounds.